Having tests for ALL
It’s important to remember that the symptoms of ALL can be caused by lots of different things. But you should go to your GP if you’re worried. They can talk to you about your symptoms and arrange any tests they think you might need.
Visiting your GP
Your GP (family doctor) will examine you and arrange for you to have blood tests. There can be different reasons for your symptoms, so you’ll need to have a blood test to help diagnose acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). If you have ALL, a blood test will usually find leukaemia cells and you'll be referred to a specialist at the hospital.
This specialist is called a haematologist, who is a doctor who treats people with blood disorders.
At the hospital
The haematologist will examine you and ask you about your symptoms and any recent illnesses. They will also arrange for you to have some more tests. These may include:
- Blood tests – you’ve probably already had blood tests but you’ll need more when you have seen the haematologist. These tests look at the changes in the leukaemia cells. This helps the doctors decide on the best treatment for you. You might hear the doctors calling one of these tests immunophenotyping or flow cytometry.
- Bone marrow test – you’ll have samples taken from your bone marrow. The doctors will count the numbers of leukaemia cells in the bone marrow. They will also send samples for cytogenetic and immunophenotyping testing.
- Lumbar puncture – a small sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord is taken to check for leukaemia cells.
- Chest x-ray – may also be done to see if there are any swollen lymph nodes (glands) in your chest.
If you have ALL, you might need a few more tests to check how your body is working in general. These could be blood tests, or an ultrasound scan of the tummy (abdomen) to look at your liver, spleen and kidneys.
This may seem like a lot of tests, but they give the doctors important information that will help them give you the right treatment.
Waiting for test results can be a scary time, but understanding a little about them - what will happen, how you'll feel and when you'll get the results - can help you cope. Thinking about how you feel and getting support from family, friends or your specialist nurse and doctor can also make it a bit easier. You could also talk to a cancer support specialist on our free helpline.
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